Hands Across the Hills
Hands Across the Hills formed in response to the 2016 election with the goal of meeting face to face with others who voted differently than us, eliminating the voices of politicians and the media, who seek to divide us, to see us as enemies, red versus blue. Two small
groups, progressives in rural Western Massachusetts and conservative voters in Eastern Kentucky coal country, met for three immersive weekends of dialogue and cultural exchange in each other’s towns, in fall 2017, spring 2018 and fall 2019.
The heart of each gathering was structured dialogue, in which feelings could be expressed honestly and deeply, creating trust and care for each other. In addition to these face to face sessions, we experienced each other’s community and family life through potluck meals, music, excursions and home stays.
The bonds between us pushed political differences into the background. We came to be friends. Now, as friends, we are working on common projects, including an oral history project, a youth exchange and a speakers bureau. Hands Across the Hills has melted away stereotypes so that we can see each other’s human face.
2018 Domestic Peacebuilding Award
In October 2018 Paula Green accepted the first Melanie Greenberg Award for domestic peacebuilding on behalf of Hands Across the Hills. The award was given by the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a network of international peacebuilding organizations, at its annual conference in Washington DC. Paula Green's acceptance talk is available both in text and audio in the Resources section of this website.
Leverett organizers of Hands Across the Hills, Oct 2017
Paula Green, Lead Organizer:
Dr. Paula Green has 40 years experience as a psychologist, peace educator, facilitator, and mentor in the field of intergroup relations and the resolution of community conflicts. In 1994 she
founded the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, a highly regarded US-based NGO focused on international conflict transformation, inter-communal dialogue and reconciliation. She is Professor Emerita at the School for International Training in the US, where she founded and directed CONTACT, the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures Program, with its two annual institutes and graduate certificate program for peacemakers from around the world. Her work has taken her to many regions of Africa, Asia, the Mid East, and Europe, as well as within the US, where she resides, consults, and teaches.
In 2009, Paula received an award from the Dalai Lama as an “Unsung Hero of Compassion.” The Unsung Heroes award is presented to “individuals who, through their loving kindness and service to others, have made their communities and our world a better place.” She also won the “Psychology of Peace and Justice Prize” from Psychologists for Social Responsibility, 2012, as well as a “Leadership and Service as a Peacemaker” award and a Human Rights award.
After the 2016 presidential election, Paula increased her focus on restoring US relations fractured by political and cultural divides. Engaging communities antagonistic to each other because of their political allegiances, she and other residents of her hometown of Leverett MA co-created Hands Across the Hills. Through this program, she now consults and mentors other communities that hope to bridge divides in their own cities or elsewhere in the country.
Contact Paula: paula [at] karunacenter.org
Our Origin: Hands Across the Hills, part of the Leverett Alliance
In December 2016 a group of Leverett residents formed the Leverett Alliance. The Alliance’s goal was to work together on issues we deeply cared about in this new time of political upheaval. A number of working committees formed including Sanctuary, Building Community, Climate Change – and Bridging, which turned into Hands Across the Hills.
The Leverett Alliance is an offshoot of the Leverett Peace Commission, a five-person group founded in 2006 to work on issues of peace and justice. The LPC serves as the steering committee to the Leverett Alliance.
letcher County Culture hub, KY
The Letcher County Culture Hub is a growing network of community-led organizations in Letcher County, who work together to build a culture and economy where they own what we make. The Culture Hub's 18 current members
include community centers, local businesses and business associations, artist and artisan organizations, business associations, volunteer fire departments, government and educational organizations, and nonprofit corporations, convened and facilitated by community organizers at Appalshop.
Culture Hub partners have started businesses, revived cultural events, influenced public policy and brought more and more citizens of Letcher County into the process of imagining and building their future together.
Ben Fink, Lead Organizer:
A native of Connecticut, Ben settled in Appalachia in 2015 to manage Appalshop’s projects in arts- and community-based cultural and economic development. Ben has organized with faith, labor, and neighborhood organizations in the Twin Cities, consulted with the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, and directed community engagement programs at Appel Farm Arts and Music Center in rural southern New Jersey, where he also spent several summers running youth theater and creative writing programs.
Ben holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of Minnesota, where he also taught and trained instructors. Ben has served on the board of directors of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc., trained and directed the homeless-and-housed zAmya Theater Project, and worked as dramaturg on the German-language premieres of the musicals Grey Gardens and Anyone Can Whistle. He has written on theater, pedagogy, and organizing; his first book, The Problem With Education Technology (Hint: It’s Not the Technology), was published in February 2016.
Letcher County participants in Hands Across the Hills, Oct 2017